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The Great Indian Political Inertia

The propensity of sticking to power at any cost is preventing the influx of young blood and new ideas in the Indian democracy. Is there a way out?

By Anubhav Srivastava

November 11, 2008

India is arguably one of the most vibrant democratic nations in the world. However it is also one of the few nations in the world where one usually finds a 70-year-old prime minister running the country with an 80-year-old president and cabinet colleagues of the same age. Even at that stage, we find that some of them have had no previous experience in running the government or of parliamentary procedures, their experience in party organisations notwithstanding.


The same situation prevails at the state level where ageing satraps maintain a vice-like grip on power. Hence we see a situation where politicians in their mid-50 are being called young when in other countries, they would have reached the stage of superannuation. The characteristic Indian outlook of associating age with ability, the tradition of succession and personality cult is stifling the growth of Indian democracy.  


In principle, all political parties agree that there is a need to give more opportunities to the youth in politics. However the senior leaders almost always prove to be a stumbling block in letting that happen. Also, more often than not, once a politician reaches a high position, he starts promoting his kith & kin. His sons, daughters or son-in-laws step into his shoes when he fades away. This leads to people with no previous experience of legislative and administrative matters getting into high political offices counting just on their family name. These unhealthy trends lead to the stoppage of the influx of young blood and new ideas in the Indian democracy.


On the flip side, many argue that experience is of utmost importance when it comes to occupying high political offices. They point out that the challenges the policy makers and administrators face in India are far more complex than in other countries considering the vast landscape and immense diversity. So is there any way to produce leaders who have the desired mix of youth and experience? Here are some suggestions –


1. The legislative set-up in India is divided into two levels – union and state. District municipal and civic bodies can be considered as the third level and the duration of their membership should be restricted to a maximum of four terms of five year duration each or a total duration of twenty years, whichever a member completes earlier.


2. Similarly, the executive setup can be divided into the following seven levels  -

  • President
  • Vice-President
  • Prime Minister
  • Members of union cabinet (Minister of state rank can be removed)
  • Chief Minister
  • Members of state cabinet
  • Mayor of a city 

Here, the duration to occupy a post at any level should be restricted to a maximum of two terms of five year duration each or a total duration of ten years, whichever a person completes earlier.


This will ensure that India will get a new-set of policy makers after every two decades and new political leaders at all levels after every ten years. The requirement of having sufficient experience in legislative and administrative matters for the political leaders too will be taken care of by this system as new people will go up the hierarchy after gaining adequate experience at lower levels. For example, someone having worked as a mayor for ten years will make a better member of state legislature than someone who has had no similar experience. And by the time he reaches positions like chief minister and union cabinet minister, he would have acquired enough knowledge about running the governments. The system will ensure a smooth entry and upward-mobility for the capable people in the India political structure and at the same time weed out inefficient and corrupt performers on a regular basis.


The author is Editor, Policy Proposals For India. 

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